Bill aims to resentence 48 juveniles

Posted at 11:12 PM, Apr 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-20 10:57:50-04

Sharletta Evans has never been short on forgiveness.

"He took his last breath in my arms," Evans said.

Even for the unforgivable.

"It does not mean that you're readily to forgive, but there comes a time you must forgive," Evans said.

For Evans, that time came in 2009 when she came face to face with the man who killed her son.

"I froze, I could not walk into the room," Evans said of the prison meeting.

Fourteen years earlier, 3-year-old Casson was slain in a drive-by shooting in the Park Hill neighborhood.  Now, Raymond Johnson, just 16 when he pulled the trigger, is serving a life sentence without parole.

"He looks at me, he stands up and he drops his head.  When he did that, it gave me what I needed to move," Evans said.

Evans is now backing Senate Bill 181.  It would affect the 48 Colorado juveniles sentenced to life without parole.  The sentences of those prisoners have been in limbo since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sentencing children to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional.

Under Senate Bill 181, a judge could resentence those 48 juveniles to either life with parole after 40 years with time earned or 24 to 48 years if there were extraordinary mitigating factors.

"These 48, let's not be mistaken at all, they committed cruel, heinous crimes, that's why they were prosecuted as adults," said Jefferson County District Attorney Peter Weir.

Weir is one of several prosecutors who says the bill goes too far.  In 2006, Colorado legislators passed a law eliminating life sentences for juveniles.  Now, juveniles who commit murder are considered for parole after 40 years.  Weir wants to keep it that way.

"For the general assembly to come in after the fact and for us to now go to victims' families and say, you know what, they changed the rules on you,they changed the game," Weir said.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has also spoken out against the bill on Facebook, citing multiple killers who could be resentenced.

Over the years, Evans has formed a special bond with the man who killed her son.  He calls her weekly from prison and she keeps pictures of him framed in her home.  She said she's seen the power of forgiveness and believes in the redemption of a man she now sees as a son of her own.

"I"m Casson Xavier Evans' mother and if I feel like [Raymond Johnson] has had enough punishment, I believe that anyone else could fall in line with that," Evans said.

Senate Bill 181 goes to its first committee hearing on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the state Capitol.